Directed by Johannes Roberts
Cindy (Christina Hendricks) and Mike (Martin Henderson) are the parents of teens Kinsey (Bailee Madison) and Luke (Lewis Pullman). Kinsey is at the age where she’s pulling away from her mom, sulking, and getting into trouble with the bad crowd. The last thing she wants to do is go on a long road trip with her mom and dad and brother, but she’s not given a choice. Along the way they’ll be visiting their mom’s elderly aunt and uncle, who operate a mobile home motel in the middle of nowhere. Whoopee!
The family arrives to the park late. It’s dark, and they’re exhausted. There’s a note for Cindy in the manager’s office along with a key to trailer #47. They’re instructed to go on in. They do, and right away there’s something amiss. For one thing, the entire complex seems to be deserted. Even Cindy’s relatives’ trailer is dark and eerily silent. When the family steps into their trailer, it appears someone has recently left. There’s half-eaten Chinese takeout in the fridge, and the place looks lived in. But they’re not alarmed until there’s a knock at the door. Cindy answers it, noting the porch light is broken, and sees the silhouette of a blonde teenager girl standing just beyond the doorway. “Is Tamara home?” the stranger asks, her voice flat and lifeless. If you’ve seen The Strangers (2008), then you know exactly where this is going. Yup! Straight to a night of pure hell.
Regardless of whether you’ve seen the original The Strangers, and regardless of whether you liked it or not, The Strangers: Prey at Night does a dang good job of staying true to the original’s roots while forging its own identity. Bryan Bertino, the writer-director of the first, co-wrote this one with Ben Ketai; but Johannes Roberts (47 Meters Down) sits in the director’s chair this time. He adds his own unique visual stamp while also wearing his heart for John Carpenter movies very much on his bloodied sleeves. You’ll see joyful homage to Halloween and Christine.
The family members are each well-drawn and likable. When they die, we care. The trio of psychopaths are cold and calculating. When they kill, we’re chilled to the bone. But a main character you may not be expecting is the music. There’s a bounty of ironic 80s pop – you hear Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now” in the trailer, and that’s just the tip of the playlist. There’s an underwater attack scene in the motel’s pool that’s particularly effective: The upbeat music and the lit-up fake flamingos and palm trees are in complete contrast to the carnage.
Aside from the quick setup introducing the targets, The Strangers: Prey at Night really is a nonstop thrill ride. I know it’s a cliché (Pauline Kael is tsk-tsking me from her grave), but sometimes you’ve just got to call it as you see it. I was breathless from start to finish. Kudos to Roberts on his best movie yet! He was wise to amp up the atmosphere with a kick-ass original score (Adrian Johnston, I Am Not A Serial Killer) and flawless cinematography (Ryan Samul, We Are What We Are).
The Strangers: Prey At Night is definitely worth a trip to the theater for the big screen experience.